By KAREN VELIE
Amid skyrocketing legal costs and demands for his departure, South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District Administrator Gerhardt Hubner announced plans last week to resign effective Aug. 3.
At several recent board meetings, Hubner had left closed session while board members discussed the sanitation district’s significant exposure to litigation because of Hubner. In his announcement, Hubner agreed to waive and release all claims against the district while the board agreed to pay Hubner three months severance pay.
Since his hire in April 2016, the state water board has admonished Hubner twice in writing and is expected to issue a fine against the district because of an April 2017 environmental violation. In addition, there is a pending Department of Fair Employment and Housing investigation into Hubner.
Over the past 20 months, the sanitation district has launched multiple investigations. These include investigations into alleged acts of racism and code of conduct violations by Hubner, alleged threats made by the sewage plant chief operator and an alleged Brown Act violation by a board member. The ongoing squabbles have become increasingly costly to rate payers plunging district operations into the red.
In March, less than a week after sanitation district superintendent John Clemons reported that Hubner had violated the districts bylaws and purchasing policy, Hubner placed the Clemons on paid administrative leave and mounted another investigation.
For the past four months, Hubner’s critics have publicly questioned why he placed two primary employees on paid administrative leave, a lack of transparency and the rising legal bills and plant expenditures.
“I think the problem is very clearly the district administrator, Gerhardt Hubner,” Ron Arnoldsen said during public comment. “Hubner is not a good fit for the job or the district. I urge the board of directors to seek new leadership.”
Sanitation district board member Jim Hill voiced concerns that the “pointless investigations are a colossal waste of rate payer funds.”
“Hubner has conducted countless investigations at a cost of over $100,000 and to my knowledge none have shown anything wrong,” Hill said. “I am hoping Clemons comes back immediately; Clemons has done good work for the district for years.”
Hubner is leaving the district with an incomplete personnel policy, no audit for fiscal year 2015/2016 and an unfinished fiscal year 2017/2018 budget.
Nevertheless, in his resignation announcement Hubner touts his accomplishments.
“I am very proud to have accomplished many of the goals and objectives I set out to complete since coming to the district over a year ago, including” the settlement of the 2010 litigation with the Regional Water Quality Control Board, a memorandum of agreement with the City of Pismo Beach and approval by the California Coastal Commission of a 30-year coastal development permit.
Hired in April 2016, the district currently pays Hubner more than $16,000 a month in salary and benefits.
According to the sanitation district’s Aug. 2 agenda, the board is slated to vote to hire former interim administrators Paul Karp and Rick Sweet to serve as district administrators while the board conducts a search for a new administrator.